Learning to Talk

by Hilary Mantel. For anyone who is familiar with Mantel from her acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy set in Tudor England, Learning to Talk is an intriguing departure from the historical fiction she’s known for. This collection of stories, set mostly in the north of England in the 1960s and 1970s, draws from Mantel’s own autobiographical experience. Through the perspective of a single narrator telling linked stories, we watch a young woman grapple with the death of her father and the burden of her Irish Catholic heritage when the Troubles threatened, struggle with a complicated relationship with her mother, and try to escape her background by smoothing her regional accent with the help of an eccentric tutor. Whether writing about the distant past or a fictionalized version of her own, Mantel’s writing is as sharp as ever.